As promised, it's time to evaluate NL pitchers performing well this spring...
Vance Worley, Phillies: Despite coming off a breakout season, Worley is falling to the late middle rounds on Draft Day. I don't necessarily disagree with where he is being drafted because Fantasy owners still aren't sure if Worley is the real deal or a fluke. While Worley is working on adding a split-fingered fastball to his arsenal, he's been one of the Phillies' best arms this spring and is striking out more than a batter per inning. I do think Worley's second-half ERA (3.48) and WHIP (1.23) is a better indicator of the pitcher Fantasy owners should expect in 2012. However, Worley also won seven games and struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings in the second half last season, so he certainly can be a reliable arm for Fantasy owners.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: Pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery are less risky than pitchers coming off a major shoulder injury. However, Wainwright's progress this spring after missing last season has been remarkable. We expect some struggles initially, but it looks like Wainwright hasn't missed a beat. Wainwright has had his history of elbow problems and it wouldn't be surprising if a setback happens at some point down the road. Fantasy owners have routinely made Wainwright a late early-round Fantasy pick this spring. I certainly understand why, but I still classify Wainwright as a high-risk, high-reward pick. Call me a pessimist if you like, but this comeback story seems too good to be true.
Mike Minor, Braves: Minor is definitely one of those players in Fantasy seeing his value skyrocket because of his strong spring performance. On average, he is going higher in drafts than Gavin Floyd, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeff Niemann and R.A. Dickey, who are all pitchers who have proven their worth on the MLB level. Minor has a 4.74 ERA and -- not a typo -- 1.52 WHIP in his MLB career. However, people love potential, which is why Minor is one of the more popular sleeper pitchers on Draft Day. Fantasy owners rather go for the home-run pick than take the safe option. I totally understand that. Minor is one of my favorite sleepers this spring as well and his average draft position (late 18th round) seems about right. I just hope Minor is ready to carry over his spring success.
Cory Luebke, Padres: I already wrote about Luebke in my Padres preview this spring, but I'm going to mention him again because he deserves it. Fantasy owners need to be aware that Luebke struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings last season and it doesn't appear he has lost his touch. He already has 16 strikeouts in 14 spring innings. His spring WHIP also matches his WHIP from last season (1.07), so it seems at worst that Luebke is on track to deliver the same results he gave us in 2011. Luebke actually struggled at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park (4.04 ERA) last season, which hopefully won't continue. Luebke remains one of my favorite breakout candidates.
Juan Nicasio, Rockies: Nicasio is obviously the feel good story of the spring. Here is a guy that sustained a serious neck injury last summer, but he is back on a hill less than a year later and pitching with no fear. We have seen many pitchers lose confidence on the hill after being struck in the head/neck area by liners, but Nicasio is out to prove that he won't be another victim. Nicasio was a pretty good pitching prospect before being summoned to the majors last season. While everyone will be rooting for the right-hander this year, I still expect him to struggle. Nicasio has only 13 MLB starts under his belt and made only nine starts at Double-A before skipping Triple-A. I'm expecting an up-and-down year from Nicasio.
Drew Pomeranz, Rockies: Pomeranz has the ability to be an impact arm. On top of trying to stay healthy, which has been an issue, Pomeranz is going to have to control his breaking pitches in the thin air in Colorado, which is a major concern for a rookie hurler. You are probably asking yourself why I like Pomeranz more than Nicasio since Pomeranz has less starts at the MLB level and Double-A level than Nicasio. Well, Pomeranz was considered a polished pitcher when Cleveland drafted him fifth overall in 2010 and displayed very few flaws in the minors. I'm not expecting him to be a Cy Young candidate in 2012, but if you made me choose between Nicasio and Pomeranz in the late rounds, then I'm going with Pomeranz, who has better strikeout potential.
Chris Volstad, Cubs: It seems the spirit of competition has brought out the best in Volstad, who has allowed one run in his first 10 spring innings while vying for a spot in Chicago's rotation. It's definitely out of the ordinary for Volstad, who usually has poor spring numbers, but this is the first time he is pitching in Arizona, which is another anomaly since the desert is usually unkind to pitchers. But I still can't tell Fantasy owners to bet the farm on Volstad. He said his confidence has changed since arriving in Chicago, but I still need to see a bigger sample size from Volstad before recommending him to other Fantasy owners. He is still a pitch-to-contact hurler, whose regular season numbers likely won't look as good as his spring numbers.
Jake Westbrook, Cardinals: File Westbrook under the players who have come to camp in significantly better shape than last season and are thriving in exhibition games because of it. But much like Volstad, I'm not about to buy into a pitcher that has had modest results at the major-league level after a few spring starts. The only comparison I can make on Westbrook is that he didn't allow a run in 18 spring innings in 2008 with Cleveland. He then posted a 3.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in five starts that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. This is the first time since elbow surgery that Westbrook has thrown like the pitcher he was in '08. Even then, Westbrook wasn't a great strikeout pitcher. I say leave Westbrook for NL-only formats on Draft Day and only add him off waivers in mixed leagues if he carries his hot start into the regular season.Follow me @CBSHurc